Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

It’s been one year since the first 5 activists were arrested on 6 June in connection with Bhima Koregaon protests.

Updated
Explainers
11 min read
(L-R) Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Rona Wilson
i
Snapshot

(This article has been republished in light of one year since the first five activists were arrested on 6 June 2018 in connection with the Bhima Koregaon protests. It was first published on 13 June 2018. The charge sheet against Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale and Rona Wilson was filed by Pune Police in November 2018 in the Bhima Koregaon case.)

Intent to strike terror in the people of India

Intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security, or sovereignty of India

Raising funds “knowing that such funds are likely to be used by a terrorist organisation to commit a terrorist act.

These are elements of some of the charges that have been slapped against a professor, a lawyer who fights for the release of political prisoners, an editor of a magazine, a human rights activist and an anti-displacement activist by the Pune police, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 or UAPA.

These five people – Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut – were arrested on 6 June and remanded to police custody –which has now been extended till 21 June. The public prosecutor told the court that they are involved with banned Maoist organisations.

But does any of this stand up to scrutiny? What exactly did these people do to get arrested? And does any of it actually make out the offences they’ve been charged with?

Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

  1. 1. Origins: Bhima-Koregaon Violence

    Obelisk commemorating the victory of the British East India company at Bhima Koregaon with names of the fallen.
    Obelisk commemorating the victory of the British East India company at Bhima Koregaon with names of the fallen.
    (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

    Let’s go back to how this all began in the first place.

    On 31 December 2017, an ‘Elgar Parishad’ was organised by Sudhir Dhawale and others, ahead of the anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. The Peshwas, considered caste oppressors by Dalit activists, were defeated at the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 1818 by an army of the British East India Company – for whom a regiment of Mahars (a Dalit caste) played an instrumental role.

    Dalit groups have commemorated this battle for decades, organising marches on the anniversary of the battle to the obelisk raised at the site to honour the fallen – all without any incident whatsoever. Till 1 January 2018, that is, when violence broke out after those gathering for the commemoration were attacked, following protests by right-wing groups in the days leading up to it.

    On 3 January, the police filed FIRs against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for inciting the violence. However, the police seem to have abandoned this line of inquiry despite a number of eyewitness accounts and other evidence. Instead, they are following up on an FIR filed on 8 January claiming that the violence was instigated by the speeches made during the Elgar Parishad. Cases had also been filed against Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid for their speeches at the event.

    Expand
  2. 2. Naxal Involvement in Elgar Parishad Reason for Arrests?

    (L-R) Dr Shoma Sen,  Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale,
    (L-R) Dr Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale,
    (Photos courtesy: Facebook)

    Which brings us to the arrests of Sen, Gadling, Dhawale, Wilson and Raut. In April, the police carried out searches at their residences and those of several other activists like members of the Kabir Kala Manch. In the time since, the FIR has been updated to add suspects (initially only Dhawale was named), and to add offences under the UAPA – the initial complaint only included charges under the IPC for promoting enmity between communities (Sections 153A and 505).

    This is where things start to get really confusing.

    At the time of the arrest on 6 June, the Joint Commissioner of the Pune Police, Ravindra Kadam, told The Print:

    All five have close Maoist links and prima facie, their involvement is being seen in the matter. It is to be investigated whether they instigated the violence.

    He also told the Times of India a similar thing, that they found incriminating evidence against them, and would “now probe how the Maoists were behind the Koregaon Bhima riots and if the violence was instigated through the Elgar Parishad.

    According to his statements, therefore, the arrests were made based on evidence seized during the raids nearly two months prior, which definitely showed they had Maoist links, but hadn’t been able to establish links between the Maoists and the violence. JCP Kadam himself clarified this at a press conference on 7 June, saying:

    The Elgar Parishad was held at Shaniwarwada with monetary help from Naxals. Not all the 250-odd organisations that participated in the Elgar Parishad were related to Maoists. But the chief organiser Sudhir Dhawale and four-five others definitely had close links with the Naxals and money from them were used in organising the Parishad. Police is investigating the angle of their involvement in the violence.
    Expand
  3. 3. The UAPA Charges

    Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

    On this publicly declared information, the arrests seemed to be based on scant grounds. The IPC charges are obviously not made out since the police was still investigating whether there was any involvement of them in the violence – but that would hardly necessitate an arrest.

    That’s where the UAPA charges came in: under this draconian law, mere involvement with certain organisations – including the Communist Party of India (Maoists) – can be an offence. If the police were confident that the suspects had links to such an organisation, an arrest would be warranted.

    What is surprising, however, was the number of UAPA charges slapped against Dhawale and the others. Based on what Kadam said, at most it looked like an offence under Section 38 of the UAPA might have been involved. This section makes it an offence to associate oneself or profess to be associated with a terrorist organisation, “with intention to further its activities”.

    However, the police haven’t just stopped at Section 38. The five are being accused of committing or conspiring to commit nine UAPA offences:

    1. Section 13: committing, abetting or advocating the commission of an ‘unlawful activity’ – activity relating to secession from India, disruption of our sovereignty or integrity, or causing disaffection against India.
    2. Section 16: committing a ‘terrorist act’
    3. Section 17: raising funds for a ‘terrorist act’
    4. Section 18: conspiracy to commit a ‘terrorist act’
    5. Section 18B: recruiting someone to commit a ‘terrorist act’
    6. Section 20: being a member of a ‘terrorist gang’ or ‘terrorist organisation’
    7. Section 38: being associated with a terrorist organisation
    8. Section 39: inviting support or giving support to a terrorist organisation
    9. Section 40: raising funds for a terrorist organisation.
    Expand
  4. 4. Why Such Serious Charges?

    These are immense charges, even for some gun-toting, bloodthirsty terrorist. So how did they come to be flung at these activists?

    Someone like Gadling, who has spent his legal career fighting – and winning – cases for those arrested under draconian laws like TADA and UAPA?

    Or Dhawale, who had to spend over three years in jail on Naxalism charges before being acquitted of all charges later?

    Or Mahesh Raut, who has been a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow, and whose colleagues claim he never even attended the Elgar Parishad?

    Or Shoma Sen, whose husband has been arrested for Naxal links before (and acquitted) but not her?

    Or Rona Wilson, who has also been working as a public relations secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners?

    Because of their jobs, and the causes they have espoused (fighting for Dalit and Adivasi rights), it is no surprise that there might be links between these people and Naxals, but this does not mean that they are members of the organisation – and certainly not that they have committed any terrorist acts.

    Expand
  5. 5. The Plot Thickens

    Of course, as Frank Sinatra sang, the best was yet to come. In the remand proceedings in court, public prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar revealed that the police had recovered explosive documents during their raids on the five, revealing not only the Maoists’ approval of the Elgar Parishad, but also that they were planning to create a “Rajiv Gandhi type incident.

    Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

    Extracts from two letters were read out in court to justify the arrests, and now the narrative had flipped to a deadly conspiracy far beyond the Bhima Koregaon violence. Here’s the first letter, released to ANI:

    This gem of a letter, recovered from Rona Wilson’s computer, is helpfully addressed to one “comrade Prakash”, and sets out a number of disparate things in remarkable detail. How the party (presumably the CPI (Maoist)) intends to help the imprisoned Professor GN Saibaba. How much ammunition is needed (for what reason, who knows). And of course, how they’re planning to assassinate the Prime Minister (at one of his roadshows). It’s signed R (presumably for Rona) and dated 18 April 2017.

    There’s also another letter to Rona Wilson from comrade “M”, which praises the untiring efforts of “urban comrades” for helping political prisoners. The letter purports to be after the Bhima Koregaon incident, calling it very effective, and urging the exploitation of the death of the young man during the violence.

    Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

    While this one may lack the murderous quality of the first, it at least helpfully names Comrade Sudhir for “coordinating the Koragaon praogramme” [sic], and Comrade Shoma and Comrade Surendra as authorities to provide funds for future programmes.

    It also names Jignesh Mevani, Umar Khalid and, for good measure, Prakash Ambedkar. Oh and it also says the Congress is willing to help provide legal and financial aid to Dalit mobilisations, through Jignesh Mevani as an intermediary, to create chaos in the country.
    Expand
  6. 6. Is This the Real Life?

    Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

    That’s a remarkably comprehensive list of the BJP’s enemies, not just listing their names, but also expressly stating their antipathy to the BJP, the RSS and PM Narendra Modi. The letters have, unsurprisingly, faced wide criticism and skepticism.

    Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao told The Week that the letters were fake and argued that no Maoist would be naïve enough to send such obvious letters to one another.

    Two former IPS officers with experience with anti-insurgency operations and extra-judicial killings, expressed similar views to The Telegraph. Former Jharkhand DGP GS Rath told them that he had never come across Maoists using original names in communications, and that they instead use aliases and coded language.

    Former Gujarat additional DGP (Intelligence) RB Sreekumar concurred, saying to the newspaper:

    These letters seem to be planted. Maoists never use real names. In Gujarat some 22 alleged terrorists, including Ishrat Jahan, were killed in fake encounters that were investigated by the Justice Bedi Commission… In every other case the police would say that they (the accused) were Lashkar-e-Toiba or Hizbul Mujahideen (operatives) and that they were trying to kill then CM (Narendra) Modi. After former DIG Vanzara was arrested, these killings stopped.

    The accused are also claiming that they have been framed and that the letters are fabrications. Advocate Tosif Shaikh, one of the lawyers representing them, argued in court when they were produced that the letters “are a vague submission. The veracity of their contents and authorship has yet to be proven.”

    He also questioned the timing of the release of this information – after all, the raids were conducted in April, so if such blatant threats to the Prime Minister’s security were discovered then, why weren’t these people arrested immediately? In fact, since this plot was planned last year (the first letter is dated April 2017), was this the only wind our security forces got of it?

    Expand
  7. 7. Is This Just Fantasy?

    One cannot but be left with questions about this supposed proof of Naxal involvement. The amateur use of real names, the shoehorning of several disparate issues into each of them, even when they don’t seem connected – which just so happen to provide some sort of basis for all those UAPA charges.

    And the discrepancies, like using a salutation (Lal Johar), which the Maoists don’t use, or how the Sakal Times found that the second letter, despite being dated in January 2018, talks about an upcoming fact-finding mission in December. The full text of that second letter isn’t publicly available, but they have a copy – several contents of which coincide with those quoted by the public prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar in court.

    Milind Ekbote (L) and Sambhaji Bhide (R)
    Milind Ekbote (L) and Sambhaji Bhide (R)
    (Photo: The Quint)

    The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) and several other civil rights organisations have protested against the arrests, and what they claim are fabricated charges.

    The IAPL (of which Gadling is general secretary) believes this is a diversionary tactic that is meant to deflect attention from the original investigations into Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote (pictured above) and the lack of progress made in apprehending and questioning the Hindutva leaders, despite the Supreme Court refusing their anticipatory bail applications. They also claim that this is part of a larger pattern of targeting people’s lawyers and activists.

    Expand
  8. 8. Caught in a Landslide, No Escape From Reality

    Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

    The IAPL’s press release on the arrests also makes another crucial point: the special procedural provisions of the UAPA that ensure long detention and make it difficult to obtain bail. This is a very serious issue and strikes at the root of what these arrests seek to do and will do.

    The tarring of Dalit assertion and the people who fight for their rights with Naxalism charges is a setback to those movements in itself, allowing a more robust criticism of movements which have fought against caste oppression, state violence and large industrial interests. Raut, for instance, had led and organised protests against the Surjagarh mining project in Gadchiroli – by terming him a Naxal, all the work he’s been doing for the local people whose farms were being ruined by the mining operations will be given a bad name.

    But even more insidious is how arresting Raut and the others under the UAPA also stops them from doing their work for an extremely long period of time. Section 43D of the UAPA doubles the amount of time one can be remanded to police custody (to 30 days), and allows 90 days of judicial custody even for offences which would otherwise only allow up to 60 days.

    On top of this, if a person is charged with an offence under the UAPA, they cannot get anticipatory bail even if released by the police, and getting bail is almost impossible.

    This is because Section 43D(5) states that a court cannot release someone on bail if the case against them is prima facie true. In most dodgy UAPA cases, where the only evidence of association or membership of a terrorist organisation is literature associated with the organisation, this standard would fail, thanks to the precedent set by Justice Katju’s decision in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam. However, because of the alleged letters in this case, the prima facie standard may well be considered to be met.

    What this all means is that the five activists are in a position where they are unlikely to get out of jail anytime soon, regardless of what finally happens in their case. Dhawale has personal experience of this – he was in jail for 40 months before he was acquitted the last time. While we cannot rule out that there may actually be some sort of case here, history seems to tell us that this is a stitch-up, and that it may be too late to hope that any sort of justice will be done here.

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    Expand

Origins: Bhima-Koregaon Violence

Obelisk commemorating the victory of the British East India company at Bhima Koregaon with names of the fallen.
Obelisk commemorating the victory of the British East India company at Bhima Koregaon with names of the fallen.
(Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s go back to how this all began in the first place.

On 31 December 2017, an ‘Elgar Parishad’ was organised by Sudhir Dhawale and others, ahead of the anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. The Peshwas, considered caste oppressors by Dalit activists, were defeated at the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 1818 by an army of the British East India Company – for whom a regiment of Mahars (a Dalit caste) played an instrumental role.

Dalit groups have commemorated this battle for decades, organising marches on the anniversary of the battle to the obelisk raised at the site to honour the fallen – all without any incident whatsoever. Till 1 January 2018, that is, when violence broke out after those gathering for the commemoration were attacked, following protests by right-wing groups in the days leading up to it.

On 3 January, the police filed FIRs against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for inciting the violence. However, the police seem to have abandoned this line of inquiry despite a number of eyewitness accounts and other evidence. Instead, they are following up on an FIR filed on 8 January claiming that the violence was instigated by the speeches made during the Elgar Parishad. Cases had also been filed against Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid for their speeches at the event.

Naxal Involvement in Elgar Parishad Reason for Arrests?

(L-R) Dr Shoma Sen,  Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale,
(L-R) Dr Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale,
(Photos courtesy: Facebook)

Which brings us to the arrests of Sen, Gadling, Dhawale, Wilson and Raut. In April, the police carried out searches at their residences and those of several other activists like members of the Kabir Kala Manch. In the time since, the FIR has been updated to add suspects (initially only Dhawale was named), and to add offences under the UAPA – the initial complaint only included charges under the IPC for promoting enmity between communities (Sections 153A and 505).

This is where things start to get really confusing.

At the time of the arrest on 6 June, the Joint Commissioner of the Pune Police, Ravindra Kadam, told The Print:

All five have close Maoist links and prima facie, their involvement is being seen in the matter. It is to be investigated whether they instigated the violence.

He also told the Times of India a similar thing, that they found incriminating evidence against them, and would “now probe how the Maoists were behind the Koregaon Bhima riots and if the violence was instigated through the Elgar Parishad.

According to his statements, therefore, the arrests were made based on evidence seized during the raids nearly two months prior, which definitely showed they had Maoist links, but hadn’t been able to establish links between the Maoists and the violence. JCP Kadam himself clarified this at a press conference on 7 June, saying:

The Elgar Parishad was held at Shaniwarwada with monetary help from Naxals. Not all the 250-odd organisations that participated in the Elgar Parishad were related to Maoists. But the chief organiser Sudhir Dhawale and four-five others definitely had close links with the Naxals and money from them were used in organising the Parishad. Police is investigating the angle of their involvement in the violence.

The UAPA Charges

Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

On this publicly declared information, the arrests seemed to be based on scant grounds. The IPC charges are obviously not made out since the police was still investigating whether there was any involvement of them in the violence – but that would hardly necessitate an arrest.

That’s where the UAPA charges came in: under this draconian law, mere involvement with certain organisations – including the Communist Party of India (Maoists) – can be an offence. If the police were confident that the suspects had links to such an organisation, an arrest would be warranted.

What is surprising, however, was the number of UAPA charges slapped against Dhawale and the others. Based on what Kadam said, at most it looked like an offence under Section 38 of the UAPA might have been involved. This section makes it an offence to associate oneself or profess to be associated with a terrorist organisation, “with intention to further its activities”.

However, the police haven’t just stopped at Section 38. The five are being accused of committing or conspiring to commit nine UAPA offences:

  1. Section 13: committing, abetting or advocating the commission of an ‘unlawful activity’ – activity relating to secession from India, disruption of our sovereignty or integrity, or causing disaffection against India.
  2. Section 16: committing a ‘terrorist act’
  3. Section 17: raising funds for a ‘terrorist act’
  4. Section 18: conspiracy to commit a ‘terrorist act’
  5. Section 18B: recruiting someone to commit a ‘terrorist act’
  6. Section 20: being a member of a ‘terrorist gang’ or ‘terrorist organisation’
  7. Section 38: being associated with a terrorist organisation
  8. Section 39: inviting support or giving support to a terrorist organisation
  9. Section 40: raising funds for a terrorist organisation.

Why Such Serious Charges?

These are immense charges, even for some gun-toting, bloodthirsty terrorist. So how did they come to be flung at these activists?

Someone like Gadling, who has spent his legal career fighting – and winning – cases for those arrested under draconian laws like TADA and UAPA?

Or Dhawale, who had to spend over three years in jail on Naxalism charges before being acquitted of all charges later?

Or Mahesh Raut, who has been a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow, and whose colleagues claim he never even attended the Elgar Parishad?

Or Shoma Sen, whose husband has been arrested for Naxal links before (and acquitted) but not her?

Or Rona Wilson, who has also been working as a public relations secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners?

Because of their jobs, and the causes they have espoused (fighting for Dalit and Adivasi rights), it is no surprise that there might be links between these people and Naxals, but this does not mean that they are members of the organisation – and certainly not that they have committed any terrorist acts.

The Plot Thickens

Of course, as Frank Sinatra sang, the best was yet to come. In the remand proceedings in court, public prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar revealed that the police had recovered explosive documents during their raids on the five, revealing not only the Maoists’ approval of the Elgar Parishad, but also that they were planning to create a “Rajiv Gandhi type incident.

Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

Extracts from two letters were read out in court to justify the arrests, and now the narrative had flipped to a deadly conspiracy far beyond the Bhima Koregaon violence. Here’s the first letter, released to ANI:

This gem of a letter, recovered from Rona Wilson’s computer, is helpfully addressed to one “comrade Prakash”, and sets out a number of disparate things in remarkable detail. How the party (presumably the CPI (Maoist)) intends to help the imprisoned Professor GN Saibaba. How much ammunition is needed (for what reason, who knows). And of course, how they’re planning to assassinate the Prime Minister (at one of his roadshows). It’s signed R (presumably for Rona) and dated 18 April 2017.

There’s also another letter to Rona Wilson from comrade “M”, which praises the untiring efforts of “urban comrades” for helping political prisoners. The letter purports to be after the Bhima Koregaon incident, calling it very effective, and urging the exploitation of the death of the young man during the violence.

Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

While this one may lack the murderous quality of the first, it at least helpfully names Comrade Sudhir for “coordinating the Koragaon praogramme” [sic], and Comrade Shoma and Comrade Surendra as authorities to provide funds for future programmes.

It also names Jignesh Mevani, Umar Khalid and, for good measure, Prakash Ambedkar. Oh and it also says the Congress is willing to help provide legal and financial aid to Dalit mobilisations, through Jignesh Mevani as an intermediary, to create chaos in the country.

Is This the Real Life?

Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

That’s a remarkably comprehensive list of the BJP’s enemies, not just listing their names, but also expressly stating their antipathy to the BJP, the RSS and PM Narendra Modi. The letters have, unsurprisingly, faced wide criticism and skepticism.

Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao told The Week that the letters were fake and argued that no Maoist would be naïve enough to send such obvious letters to one another.

Two former IPS officers with experience with anti-insurgency operations and extra-judicial killings, expressed similar views to The Telegraph. Former Jharkhand DGP GS Rath told them that he had never come across Maoists using original names in communications, and that they instead use aliases and coded language.

Former Gujarat additional DGP (Intelligence) RB Sreekumar concurred, saying to the newspaper:

These letters seem to be planted. Maoists never use real names. In Gujarat some 22 alleged terrorists, including Ishrat Jahan, were killed in fake encounters that were investigated by the Justice Bedi Commission… In every other case the police would say that they (the accused) were Lashkar-e-Toiba or Hizbul Mujahideen (operatives) and that they were trying to kill then CM (Narendra) Modi. After former DIG Vanzara was arrested, these killings stopped.

The accused are also claiming that they have been framed and that the letters are fabrications. Advocate Tosif Shaikh, one of the lawyers representing them, argued in court when they were produced that the letters “are a vague submission. The veracity of their contents and authorship has yet to be proven.”

He also questioned the timing of the release of this information – after all, the raids were conducted in April, so if such blatant threats to the Prime Minister’s security were discovered then, why weren’t these people arrested immediately? In fact, since this plot was planned last year (the first letter is dated April 2017), was this the only wind our security forces got of it?

Is This Just Fantasy?

One cannot but be left with questions about this supposed proof of Naxal involvement. The amateur use of real names, the shoehorning of several disparate issues into each of them, even when they don’t seem connected – which just so happen to provide some sort of basis for all those UAPA charges.

And the discrepancies, like using a salutation (Lal Johar), which the Maoists don’t use, or how the Sakal Times found that the second letter, despite being dated in January 2018, talks about an upcoming fact-finding mission in December. The full text of that second letter isn’t publicly available, but they have a copy – several contents of which coincide with those quoted by the public prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar in court.

Milind Ekbote (L) and Sambhaji Bhide (R)
Milind Ekbote (L) and Sambhaji Bhide (R)
(Photo: The Quint)

The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) and several other civil rights organisations have protested against the arrests, and what they claim are fabricated charges.

The IAPL (of which Gadling is general secretary) believes this is a diversionary tactic that is meant to deflect attention from the original investigations into Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote (pictured above) and the lack of progress made in apprehending and questioning the Hindutva leaders, despite the Supreme Court refusing their anticipatory bail applications. They also claim that this is part of a larger pattern of targeting people’s lawyers and activists.

Caught in a Landslide, No Escape From Reality

Why the Case for Arresting Activists for “Maoist Ties” Is So Weak

The IAPL’s press release on the arrests also makes another crucial point: the special procedural provisions of the UAPA that ensure long detention and make it difficult to obtain bail. This is a very serious issue and strikes at the root of what these arrests seek to do and will do.

The tarring of Dalit assertion and the people who fight for their rights with Naxalism charges is a setback to those movements in itself, allowing a more robust criticism of movements which have fought against caste oppression, state violence and large industrial interests. Raut, for instance, had led and organised protests against the Surjagarh mining project in Gadchiroli – by terming him a Naxal, all the work he’s been doing for the local people whose farms were being ruined by the mining operations will be given a bad name.

But even more insidious is how arresting Raut and the others under the UAPA also stops them from doing their work for an extremely long period of time. Section 43D of the UAPA doubles the amount of time one can be remanded to police custody (to 30 days), and allows 90 days of judicial custody even for offences which would otherwise only allow up to 60 days.

On top of this, if a person is charged with an offence under the UAPA, they cannot get anticipatory bail even if released by the police, and getting bail is almost impossible.

This is because Section 43D(5) states that a court cannot release someone on bail if the case against them is prima facie true. In most dodgy UAPA cases, where the only evidence of association or membership of a terrorist organisation is literature associated with the organisation, this standard would fail, thanks to the precedent set by Justice Katju’s decision in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam. However, because of the alleged letters in this case, the prima facie standard may well be considered to be met.

What this all means is that the five activists are in a position where they are unlikely to get out of jail anytime soon, regardless of what finally happens in their case. Dhawale has personal experience of this – he was in jail for 40 months before he was acquitted the last time. While we cannot rule out that there may actually be some sort of case here, history seems to tell us that this is a stitch-up, and that it may be too late to hope that any sort of justice will be done here.

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